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Commencement 2002

Holy Cross graduates 664 during the College’s 156th Commencement

Billy Collins ’63, United States poet laureate, delivered the principal address and received an honorary degree on Friday, May 24, as the College graduated 664 men and women during the College’s 156th Commencement.

Collins, a professor of English at Lehman College at the City University of New York and writer-in-residence at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, N.Y., is the author of several volumes of poetry, including The Art of Drowning (1995); Questions About Angels (1991) and the recently published Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems. A recipient of fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, he has received the Bess Hokin Prize, the Frederick Bock Prize, the Oscar Blumenthal Prize and the Levinson Prize. Collins lives with his wife, Diane, in Somers, N.Y.

In his address to the graduates, Collins recalled his days on Mount St. James with humor, saying, “Looking around me today, I see that certain things have changed. I am not suggesting that you do, but if you did remove every female graduate sitting here and replaced her with a Jesuit, and then took a black and white photograph of it, you would have a clearer picture of how Holy Cross looked when I graduated.”

Collins advised the graduates to “keep alive your inner schoolboy or schoolgirl—the one who never gets tired of looking things up and finding things out.”

“What I am talking about,” Collins said, “is critical reading and thinking as lifetime activities—not merely exercises performed in the enclosed context of a school. … I would like to convey to you the notion of endless self-schooling and perpetual discovery—a condition that would make the phrase ‘continuing education’ a redundancy. To borrow an aphorism from my father, who, like most fathers was fond of aphoristic wisdom, ‘Experience holds its graduation at the grave.’”

Other individuals receiving honorary degrees were Dennis Budd, retired chief of the Worcester Fire Department, for his service to the city and his leadership during the tragic December 1999 warehouse fire in which six firefighters lost their lives; and Dr. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a clinical psychologist and former member of the Human Rights Violations Committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.

The valedictory address was delivered by Marianne S. Bellino ’02, of Washington, D.C., a visual arts history/ architectural studies double major and a member of the College Honors Program.

In her address, Bellino reflected on a significant day during her junior year abroad, spent in Florence, Italy. “I was sitting alone in the art department library,” she recalled, “a refurbished church at the University of Florence surrounded by Latin and Italian texts with the ceramic tile of the floor beneath my feet, and the hard wood tables at my arms. I was reading about the victory of Constantine the Great. In battle surrounded by wounded, starved men, depleted supplies and provisions he felt powerless and vulnerable. The emperor was on the verge of being conquered in battle and although had never before been a believer, he knelt down and begged God for aid. Constantine opened his eyes and looked into the sky. There radiating in the heavens he saw a cross of light bearing the inscription, In Hoc Signo Vinces. As my fluorescent yellow highlighter ran across this Latin phrase, my focus shifted. The words echoed, In Hoc Signo Vinces. I was immediately reminded of the Holy Cross seal with the shield in the center bearing the very same Latin inscription. I understood the words to mean: under this sign of the cross you will be victorious, under this sign you will conquer and win. ”

“The ultimate victory,” Bellino concluded, “is not always readily visible and does not signify triumph over another. There is no easy formula for pursuing the right path to victory, but it is essential to keep the quest alive. If we are reminded of our bond, our symbolic union to the Cross, the Holy Cross, each one of us can win a victory for God, for ourselves, for our communities and for all of humanity. In hoc signo vinces.”




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